David's Blog

On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest.  Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!


"Advice to athletes, coaches and parents "

9/1/2014

Athlete's Oath:

Advice to athletes, coaches and parents - Eagle-Tribune: Sports

 

Michael Muldoon mmuldoon@eagletribune.com | Posted: Friday, August 29,

 

Teachers, coaches, parents, classmates and entire towns do a tremendous disservice by giving a star

athlete special treatment.

True story. After playing big-time college football, the most popular, best looking kid in my high

school class turned into a drug addict who robbed the unsuspecting, aging parents of his friends and

lived under a bridge.

I always wondered if his receiving kid-glove treatment due to his athletic prowess was the reason.

If the kid deserves to be failed, fail him. If he deserves to be suspended, suspend him. If he deserves to

be arrested, arrest him.

Here is some advice for athletes, coaches and administrators worth keeping in mind this school year:

From the ages of 12-18, there is nothing more important than being popular. From the ages of 19-99

there is nothing less important than having been popular from 12-18.

If all your friends are athletes, you are shallow.

A lot of middle-aged guys who can’t play ball with their kids today thought they were doing the right

thing playing with pain. Listen to your body.

Give Mom a hug. Give Grammy a hug. Give Sis a hug. Give your best girl a hug. And never forget to

treat all women and girls with the utmost respect. Girls, if he treats you poorly break it off

immediately and never look back.

A real athlete never misses a game or a practice for a dance, a concert or Senior Skip Day.

Coaches Award winners tend to be more successful in life than team MVPs.

Humility is a virtue. False humility makes you a bore.

Your coach doesn’t have it in for you. Repeat, your coach doesn’t have it in for you.

Always give a kid a second chance.

Be a multi-sport athlete. You think that 155th AAU game of the year is making you a better player?

The number of athletes who do one sport year-round who blow out their knees or quit from burnout is

frightening. Ask any college coach, they prefer multi-sport athletes.

It is easier to get into an Ivy League school than to earn a full boat. And that’s a fact.9/1/2014 Athlete's Oath: Advice to athletes, coaches and parents - Eagle-Tribune: Sports

http://www.eagletribune.com/sports/article_1d6b3b08-2f4c-11e4-b235-001a4bcf887a.html?mode=print 2/3

Go out of your way to befriend the fat kid, the kid with acne problems or the kid with the troubled

home life.

It’s not OK for a coach to swear.

Ted Williams was dead wrong. The toughest thing in sports isn’t hitting a baseball. It’s being a parent

of an athlete. Good parents shut their mouths, stay glued to their seats and let the players play, the

coaches coach and the officials officiate.

You won’t always be successful, but give it your best shot to spare your child a heap of

embarrassment.

Make sure you show the same respect and loyalty to your high school coach as you do to your AAU or

club team coach.

No matter how unsatisfying the season may have been for you, never skip the team banquet, it’s the

ultimate slap in the face to your teammates and coaches.

Play for the love of the game and only the love of the game.

You’re not going to make the pros. Our 24-school region has sent a total of three players to the NHL

and sends about one baseball player and one football player to the pros every 10 years. We’ve

produced one NBA player. You have a far better chance of becoming a brain surgeon.

Any coach who swears too much is a lousy coach and an even worse role model.

The undersized benchwarmer who doesn’t miss practice in four years should be more admired than the

all-scholastic quarterback who can barely fit his head in his helmet.

You’ll never regret having said no to alcohol, drugs and sex in high school.

Future employers may not be a big fan of that cool tattoo you got in high school.

Right, wrong or indifferent, colleges covet scholar-athletes. A star athlete with 1,250 on his SATs

with a 3.6 GPA can go to the Ivy Leagues. A regular student with those grades would be laughed out of

any Ivy League admissions department.

Any coach or athletic director who drones on about “kids nowadays” should get out of the business.

Same goes for those whining about being underpaid.

If a coach positively affected your life, write him/her a thank you note. You’ll have a friend for life.

You have the rest of your life to get a job.

Don’t use the n-word, regardless of your race, or gay slurs.

The pain you can inflict with social media is immeasurable. Don’t hit send if you are in a bad mood,

had too good of a time at a party or have a voice in the back of your head saying this might not be such9/1/2014 Athlete's Oath: Advice to athletes, coaches and parents - Eagle-Tribune: Sports

http://www.eagletribune.com/sports/article_1d6b3b08-2f4c-11e4-b235-001a4bcf887a.html?mode=print 3/3

a good idea.

If your coach instructs you to cheapshot an opponent, quit the team immediately.

Treat the team manager with the same respect as the star of the team.

A coach who makes fun of a boy’s weight is a boor. A coach who makes fun of a girl’s weight is

dangerous.

Any coach/athletic director who voluntarily hosts invitational events is a gem.

Any athletic director who doesn’t have rosters for the fans for state tourney games isn’t doing his job.

Administrators must stand up to meddlesome parents or it will be a slippery slide to chaos.

The size of your nose, biceps or breasts is inconsequential to anybody who truly cares about you.

A good captain will lead his team to a Super Bowl title. A great one will take a stand against hazing.

It’s never too late to change.

A loss should hurt like hell. Getting thrown out of a game should hurt even more.

Steroids make you a bigger athlete and a smaller person.

Always feed the benchwarmer the ball at the end of a blowout.

Don’t listen to the coach who cut you. Work like the dickens and shock the world next year.

Let the games begin.

http://www.eagletribune.com/sports/article_1d6b3b08-2f4c-11e4-b235-001a4bcf887a.html

 

"How can someone seeking financial advice navigate their way through this complex field and make sure they get the right advice?"

How to buy financial advice now

Wed, Jul 30 2014

By Linda Stern

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The financial advice business is changing dramatically in every aspect, from how advisers spend their time, to what they charge, to how they label and promote themselves.

The result? Further confusion for consumers who probably sought help to find clarity in the first place.

"Brokers" who used to pick stocks and sell mutual funds at firms like Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Merrill Lynch are now more likely now to call themselves "financial advisers" and manage portfolios for fees instead of (or in addition to) commissions.

Independents who used to offer comprehensive advice are now more likely to focus on investment management and call themselves "wealth managers."

Charles Schwab, the online brokerage that made its name catering to do-it-yourself investors, now is pushing its own stable of are "financial consultants" and preaching the value of face-to-face (or at least Skype-to-Skype) connections.

New to the scene are "robo-advisers" - algorithmically driven online money management firms that will automate your investment decisions.

Further complicating consumer choice is the fact that most firms have a variety of ways in which they offer financial advice to clients.

At Vanguard, for example, a firm which promotes simplicity in investing, there are nine different advice platforms. They vary, based on whether a client is investing through a retirement account or directly, how much advice a client needs or wants, and how much money the client has to invest.

How can someone seeking financial advice navigate their way through this complex field and make sure they get the right advice? Here are a few things you should know now:

NEEDS ASSESSMENT

Assess your own needs. The first step is to figure out what you want a financial professional to do for you. Do you want comprehensive investment management? A whole-life plan that includes everything from how to pay for college to tax reduction to retirement planning? Just a reality check on your retirement readiness?

PAY FOR WHAT YOU EAT

Once you know what you want, it's easier to find the right adviser. For a spot check or limited amount of planning, consider hiring a by-the-hour adviser - you can find one through the Garrett Planning Network (www.garrettplanningnetwork.com).

Want a comprehensive soup-to-nuts life financial plan? Look for a fee-only certified financial planner (CFP) through the CFP Board of Standards (www.cfp.net) or the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (www.napfa.org).

LEARN THE LINGO

"Fee only" means that the adviser is not paid to sell products and, if that person is a certified financial planner, it also means she doesn't even own a small share in a financial company that does sell products.

"Fee-based" is a meaningless term of art, typically used by advisers who charge fees and reap commissions.

WATCH YOUR WALLET

There's a huge discrepancy in the amount of fees advisers charge.

At Vanguard, investors willing to stick with Vanguard funds can get basic fund choice advice for free and a comprehensive financial plan for 0.3 percent of the assets they invest with Vanguard.

Traditional brokerage firms will offer broader portfolios and go fee-only but at costs that can top 2 percent a year.

In the middle are most independent financial advisers, who tend to charge fees near 1 percent of assets, more for small accounts and less for bigger ones.

An extra percent or two, pulled from an account every year, can cost a long-term investor hundreds of thousands of dollars at the end of the day, so fees do matter.

CONSIDER GENERIC ADVICE

A lot of lip service is given to selling the idea that everyone needs personalized and customized financial advice.

That's true for people who have ultra-high net worth, with businesses, estates, tax issues and the like to manage. It's also true of people who have very special situations, such as handicapped children who will need lifelong care.

But it may not be true of the average Joe and Jane, who simply need tips on how to invest their 401(k)or IRA fund.

Companies like T. Rowe Price, Vanguard and Fidelity will give you basic fund guidance for free, or close to it.

REMEMBER THE ROBOTS

Companies like Wealthfront, Betterment and Hedgeable will invest your money for you in diversified portfolios regularly rebalanced and managed, if you need that, to minimize taxes.

They will charge pennies on the dollar of what a face-to-face individualized money manager will charge, and in some cases offer that for free.

They offer a reasonable solution for investors who know how much they have to invest, don't need hand-holding, and are comfortable turning their finances over to an algorithm and sticking with passive index-linnked investing.

Here's encouragement: Over long swaths of time, those passively-managed portfolios tend to beat the active investment managers.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/30/us-column-stern-advice-idUSKBN0FZ2EO20140730?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563

 

“where he’s gone wrong and what he’s done right.”

The First Hundred PAs: The Curious Case of Cubs Rookie Javier Baez, Slugger and Strikeout Machine

AUGUST 29, 2014 

by BEN LINDBERGH

On Wednesday, Jorge Soler became the latest Cubs prospect to debut and dazzle, turning a fat 90 mph Mat Latos fastball into one of the day’s longest homers on his first major league swing. Soler added an RBI single in his fourth at-bat, feeding Cubs fans’ visions of a playoff run, possiblyas soon as next season, fueled by a lineup full of sluggers from the farm. As Grantland colleague Michael Baumann wrote in his recap of Soler’s debut, “One game doesn’t make a rookie, but it’s a big step.”

Sometimes, though, a few stumbles follow a rookie’s first step. Cardinals right fielder Oscar Taveras, who entered this spring as the third-best prospect in baseball and made the majors in May, homered in his first game too. He’s hit .230/.270/.287 in close to 200 plate appearances since, with only one additional dinger. Of even more interest to Cubs fans, who aren’t broken up about Taveras’s struggles, is this odd-looking slash line: .189/.222/.442. It belongs to Chicago second baseman Javier Baez, another preseason top-five prospect, who capped his debut with a homer (after striking out three times), but has looked as lost in many at-bats as he has locked in during others. Baez’s next plate appearance will be his 100th in the big leagues, so in the spirit of arbitrary endpoints and the “first hundred days,” let’s review Baez’s performance to see where he’s gone wrong and what he’s done right.

♦♦♦ 

We can see most of the good and the bad of Baez’s season in two GIFs. The first is a supercut of every Baez whiff. I hope you have some time for this symphony of strikeouts.

The second is Baez’s third homer, which is the most exciting example of what can happen when he makes contact.

Let’s start with the strikeouts. Baez has fanned 43 times in his first 99 plate appearances, a 43.4 percent clip. No other player with as many PAs in 2014 has topped 40 percent (although, as most Cubs fans could tell you, Mike Olt has come close). According to data from Baseball Prospectus, if Baez strikes out in his next trip to the plate, he’ll set a record for the most K’s in the first 100 plate appearances of a nonpitcher’s career since at least 1960. If he doesn’t strike out, he’ll merely tie for first on the list, with Russell Branyan and (brace yourself, Cubs fans, because this is cruel) Brett Jackson.

Baez’s feats have started an avalanche of fun facts; in 23 games, he’s already summited strikeout heights that many longtime major leaguers can’t claim to have scaled. However, we have to acknowledge that the rising leaguewide K rate has spoiled strikeout-related fun facts forever, or at least required that we keep some caveats in mind. The average strikeout rate in the majors this season is 20.3 percent, the highest it’s ever been. If Baez strikes out in his next at-bat, his rate will rise to roughly 217 percent of the league average. If we calculate strikeout rate relative to MLB average — K%+ — for every player on the “first hundred PAs” list, Baez is no longer near the top. In fact, he falls just outside the top 50, and behind post-2000 players Jackson, Jose Bautista, Ian Stewart, Wily Mo Pena, and Craig Wilson. (One of those guys turned out to be good.)

Here are the worst 10 players by K%+ in their first 100 career plate appearances:

Name

Year(s)

K%

League K%

K%+

Darryl Strawberry

1983

38

13.5

281

Dave Nicholson

1961-62

38

13.5

281

Billy Bryan

1962

38

14.1

269

Rob Nelson

1986-69

39

14.7

266

Jackie Warner

1966

41

15.5

265

Mike Schmidt

1972-73

36

13.7

263

Russell Branyan

1998-2000

43

16.5

261

Jim Fuller

1973-74

34

13.1

260

Rick Renick

1968

41

15.8

259

Melvin Nieves

1992-95

39

15.1

259

This list, like Baez’s season, is a mix of encouraging and concerning: Strawberry, a Cooperstown-caliber hitter whose career was curtailed by addiction; Schmidt, probably the best third baseman of all time; Branyan, a three-true-outcomes journeyman who hit well when he played; and seven other no-names who combined for -1.9 career WAR. The range of possible outcomes runs from scrub to inner-circle Hall of Famer.

Strawberry, who suffered the most extreme early contract struggles, is also a perfect example of how quickly they can subside. “Rarely has a player headed for New York with so much expected of him, a result of the potential so widely attributed to him,” the New York Times’s Gerald Eskenazi wrote when the Mets summoned Strawberry to the majors. “And even more rarely has one 21-year-old player been expected to provide so much instant power.” Switch “New York” to “Chicago,” and Baez’s story sounds the same. Strawberry started off far slower, batting .172/.230/.290 with 38 strikeouts in his first 100 plate appearances, at a time when the average K rate was two-thirds of what it is now. From that point through the end of the season, a span of 373 plate appearances, he mashed to the tune of a .281/.365/.575 slash line, with a still-elevated but much more acceptable 24.2 percent strikeout rate.

In other words, it wouldn’t be unprecedented if Baez suddenly went on a tear. Research suggests that strikeout rate “stabilizes” after 100 plate appearances, but all that tells us is that we can be confident that a player’s strikeout rate over a 100-PA period represents his true talent over that span. It doesn’t necessarily tell us what that true talent will be over the next span of equivalent length. Players adapt and improve, particularly at Baez’s age.

One thing we can’t tell from the stats, though, is why Strawberry was striking out so much. In Baez’s case, we have the disturbing details.

Player

Zone%

Swing%

Contact%

Z-Swing%

Z-Contact%

O-Swing%

O-Contact%

SwStrk%

Baez

38.5

49.0

59.5

59.0

82.1

42.8

40.0

40.5

AVG

49.5

46.5

79.4

63.3

87.3

30.0

63.1

20.6

Baez has swung at pitches outside the strike zone 45 percent more often than the typical hitter. It’s no wonder, then, that he hasn’t seen many strikes. We can visualize this using two PITCHf/x-based metrics that Baseball Prospectus analyst Robert Arthur unveiled earlier this year: zone distance (the median distance from the center of the strike zone of the pitches a hitter sees) and swing distance (the median distance from the center of the strike zone of the pitches a hitter attacks). The higher the zone distance, the more the pitcher fears the hitter’s power (and/or the more confident he is that he can get the hitter to chase). The higher the swing distance, the less selective the hitter. Examining both — particularly in relation to the dotted, league-average line — in the smoothed graphs below gives us a good sense of Baez’s problem:

  

 

Don’t read too much into the trajectory of the trend lines, since these are still fairly small samples. However, the distance between Baez (who ranks among the five highest hitters in both zone and swing distances) and the average batter is obvious. Fearing his power and knowing that they can exploit his aggressiveness, pitchers have stayed far away, and Baez has helped them out by swinging anyway.

Baez swings at 37 percent of pitches that have a less than 5 percent probability of being called a strike, according to BP’s strike probability model. There are only four hitters with higher swing rates on those unlikely strikes than Baez this season: Reed Johnson, A.J. Pierzynski, Ramiro Pena, and Hector Sanchez. When those four swing at those distant pitches, though, they whiff only 37 percent of the time, relative to the 50 percent league average. When Baez swings at them, he misses 76 percent of the time. His flailing outside the zone isn’t a strategy based on some Sandoval-esque ability to get his bat on any ball. It’s the absence of a strategy.

Baez’s problems are even more pronounced against breaking balls, which he swings at, on average, almost 2 inches farther from the center of the zone than he does all other pitches (one of the biggest such discrepancies in the sport). Pitchers have noticed. Although they avoided the strike zone against Baez from the start based on scouting reports and reputation, they’ve dramatically upped their breaking ball usage against him as his vulnerability has become clear.

Breaking balls down, fastballs up: This is the way to beat Baez today. (Pitch groups are clickable to select/deselect.)

We don’t know whether it will still be the way to beat him tomorrow.

♦♦♦

Now that the ugliness is out of the way, let’s return to that homer, which was Baez’s second of a game against the Rockies on August 7. The pitch, an 0-1 slider from Juan Nicasio, had only an 8.3 percent probability of being called a strike, the lowest of any pitch on which Baez has gotten a hit. That’s not a location that’s particularly conducive to power. Here’s how right-handed hitters have done against sliders in a 2-by-2-inch box around that spot since 2011, relative to all other locations, by whiff rate, batting average on contact, slugging percentage on contact, and weighted runs above average per 100 balls in play.

Location

Whiffs/Swing

BACON

SLGCon

wRAA/100 BIP

That Spot

46%

.278

.380

1.79

Everywhere Else

35%

.311

.485

6.28

Not great. Of 188 other pitches in that area that were put in play, only two others left the park. Baez’s was the only one that went out the other way, which (as Jeff Sullivan observed) made it even more anomalous. And while he hit it in Coors Field, ESPN Home Run Tracker reports that the altitude added only 3 feet, and that the ball would have gone out of 18 other parks. That’s the sort of swing, and the sort of result, that tells us that Baez is special, and not only in the sense that he strikes out so often.

Baez isn’t Shaq Thompson, the Washington Huskies linebacker1 who went 0-for-39 with 37 strikeouts as a Red Sox farmhand in Rookie Leaguetwo years ago. Nor is he Anthony Gose, who looked overmatched when he made the majors (even more so than now), or Domingo Santana, the Astros prospect who “panicked” on defense and struck out 14 times in 18 plate appearances in the majors this year. Baez is raw, and right now, he’s easy to beat. But he’s already capable of turning the tables when someone makes a mistake, and he has a history of learning fast. In his first exposure to High-A in 2012, he hit .188/.244/.400 in 86 plate appearances. After adjusting to that level and moving up to Double-A in the middle of last year, he batted .228 with a .297 slugging percentage in his first 102 PAs (albeit with good power) before becoming a monster down the stretch. In Triple-A this season, his monthly OPS-split progression looked like this: .617, .738, .815, .999.

Baez is the youngest man in the NL, a distinction that typically implies both that a player has a ton of talent and that he has a lot to learn. Heswings hard and with awe-inspiring bat speed, and the homers (he already has seven) have come almost as thick as the K’s. Baez’s contact rate when he swings at pitches inside the zone is barely below league-average; now he needs to become more judicious about swinging at pitches outside the zone, which young hitters tend to do as they add more pitches to their decision-making databases. The only question is whether the contact rate will rise enough for all the power to play.

On Wednesday, Baez faced flame-throwing Reds closer Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning of a two-run game, a matchup that we would expect to result in a strikeout 76 percent of the time if we took each player’s current K rate to reflect his actual skill. Baez quickly went down 0-2, taking a fastball for a strike and swinging at a slider that wasn’t one. Over the past five seasons, Chapman has thrown 265 two-strike pitches at least 101 miles per hour. He likes to aim them up, where they’re even tougher to time.

True to form, the fastball he threw Baez was up, albeit a little lower than he would have liked. It left his hand at 102. But Baez not only got around on it, he nearly drove it out.

These are all the balls that batters have managed to put in play against a 101-plus-mph Chapman fastball with two strikes. There aren’t many of them. See the one inside the red circle, though? That’s Baez’s fly ball. He didn’t hit it quite far enough. But he did hit it farther than anyone else has. Amid all the strikeouts, Cubs fans can take solace in that.

http://grantland.com/the-triangle/javier-baez-chicago-cubs-strikeouts-homers-first-100-plate-appearances/

 

“To what extent does payroll= wins?”

Updated: August 31st, 2014 4:15pm

 

 

Get the 1500 ESPN Sp

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

Many people far too often mistakenly equate payroll to winning in Major League Baseball. 

Yes, a higher payroll allows teams more leeway to make mistakes or cover up for injuries and/or bad trades and signings, but year after year we see more and more examples of why how teams spend is much more important than how much they spend.

Again, HOW teams spend money is exponentially more important than HOW MUCH they spend. 

Now, of course payroll matters to some degree. It certainly isn't irrelevant. If you and I both enter a cooking contest and your grocery budget is $500 to my $150, it'll be a lot easier for you to buy the ingredients you want. But the difference in budget doesn't prevent me from cooking creatively. In many ways the tighter budget might help me hone in on the most important ingredients.

Several low- to mid-payroll teams have been cooking a lot of creative dishes lately. The Tampa Bay Rays have finished above .500 every year since 2008 while spending $100-150 million less than teams in their own division. The Oakland Athletics had a movie made about their creative cooking in the early 2000's, and they're doing it again in 2014. The St. Louis Cardinals are never among the top seven or eight spenders in baseball, yet they average 91 wins per season since 2000.

On the flip side, teams like the Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets and Chicago Cubs have often spent well over $100 million on losing teams in recent years. The Mets and Cubs finally scaled back in recent years.

Below is a look at how MLB teams stack up in 2014 - payrolls relative to projected win totals (the team icons represent a few interesting case studies): 



From a competition standpoint, Major League Baseball doesn't have many incentives to implement a salary cap. Over the last 25 years we have seen 15 different World Series winners. Over that same stretch the NBA and its salary cap have produced eight different champions. The NFL and its salary cap have produced 14 different Super Bowl winners. The English Premiere League (and First Division, prior to 1992) has produced just seven winners in 25 years. Only the NHL (15 winners in 25 years) can match MLB's parity.

The above graphic shows a small correlation between payroll and wins, as expected, but it also highlights the importance ofhow teams spend as opposed to how much.

As long as the Twins continue to spend between $85 and $110 million - the range they've been in since Target Field opened in 2010, which has ranked the franchise anywhere between 9th and 24th among MLB team payrolls - their eventual blueprint for success (assuming the Twins will have success again at some point...) will look nothing like what the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees and Angels are doing. Minneapolis/St. Paul is the 15th largest media market, and the Twin Cities area has one of the lowest cable/satellite subscriber rates in baseball. Splashing around at the poker table against teams with more chips - the multi-billion dollar TV deal teams - is not how you fix a mid-market franchise.

While the Twins certainly aren't the bottom-feeding payroll team they were 12 years ago during the last revival, they are decidedly mid-market. That's the reality.

The Twins at one time were masters at turning a small budget into a division championships, but they clearly aren't anymore. The good news is the franchise needs not look any further than some of the other mid-market (and low-market) teams for a success blueprint - specifically the Cardinals, Braves and A's, who have all competed at a high level for years against the top spenders in baseball.

All three franchises follow some these main macro-principles:

• Supplement a strong inner-core of good prospects with impactful free agents and trade targets (in recent years this includes Scott Kazmir, Jeff Samardzija, Yoenis Cespedes, Carlos Beltran, Ervin Santana, Justin Upton and others).

• They aren't afraid to cut bait on players or part ways at peak value as opposed to waiting until it's too late (see: Brian McCann, Albert Pujols, David Freese, Dan Haren, etc.).

• They aren't afraid to use platoons in situations where there isn't a clear-cut, top-notch, every-day player at a position.Trevor Plouffe, for instance, is a career .275/.341/.475 hitter against left-handed pitching. Maybe his role going forward is as a part-time player. The A's plucked Brandon Moss off the scrap heap a few years ago because he was a left-handed hitter who mashed right-handed pitching. He has gone on to hit 74 home runs over the past three seasons.

• The Cardinals lean toward groundball-heavy starting pitching. The A's look to limit walks.

• They generally don't handicap themselves with bad contracts, although the B.J. Upton contract in Atlanta might be an exception.

The Twins are working on a few of these steps. They'll obviously never be accused of trying to outbid the Dodgers and Yankees for a free agent, and they have cultivated one of the best farm systems in baseball. But the climb is still steep.

In the meantime, people need to stop citing payroll as the main hindrance to the Twins' return to relevance. 

http://www.1500espn.com/sportswire/Mackey_What_can_the_Twins_learn_from_other_midmarket_MLB_teams083114

 

“even mediocre pitching is costly on the free agent market”

The bright and incomplete future of the Chicago Cubs

By Marc Normandin  @Marc_Normandin on Aug 29 2014, 9:01a 15 

Chicago still has a lot left to do, but it's hard to argue with what the Cubs have already done in this rebuild.

The Cubs' lineup looks far different in August than it did in April, and unlike in past years when that might have been a depressing notion, this time around it's an omen of a bright future. The Cubs have brought up three of their top six prospects in 2014, with Arismendy Alcantara getting the call first followed by Javier Baez and then Jorge Soler. There are more to come, too, with Kris Bryant, the top prospect in the entire game for some and the Cubs' first-round pick in the 2013 draft, destroying Triple-A. This group together, along with a few pieces that are already in Chicago, could make for a devastating Cubs lineup in the not-too-distant future, but it's still not enough.

The Cubs just don't have the pitching, not in the majors and not in their system. C.J. Edwards was their top pitching prospect coming into the year, and his optimistic projection -- courtesy of Baseball Prospectus -- had him as a No. 3 starter. His realistic one slated him for relief -- late-inning relief, but still relief, and injuries plus his performance this summer have done nothing but reinforce that thought. Pierce Johnson was the other pitcher in the top 10, and his realistic projection placed him as a No. 4 starter.

Those kinds of arms are important, because if they work out they save a team money it can invest elsewhere -- even mediocre pitching is costly on the free agent market -- but they can't do it on their own. It's good to have Edwards and Johnson as well as Dan Straily and Jacob Turner, both of whom are already in the majors and still young, but if that's four-fifths of your rotation, you are not a contender without a historically productive lineup to back them. Sub in Travis Wood, Kyle Hendricks, Edwin Jackson, whoever for any of the above names: the Cubs have a whole lot of middling starters, and also Jake Arrieta, at their disposal.

Arrieta is, at least, a start. He had a promising run as a prospect in the Orioles' system, but as happens to Orioles pitching prospects under the control of the Orioles, things went to hell, and he found himself on the Cubs last July after posting a 5.46 ERA with Baltimore over the course of three-plus seasons. Since coming to Chicago, he's struck out almost three times as many batters as he's walked while posting a 125 ERA+ and averaging six innings per start. That's a high-quality pitcher, one that's hard to identify, draft and develop, but with a little help from the O's incompetence, the Cubs found themselves with one.

In addition to Arrieta, the Cubs have both the resources and the prospects to make this rebuild come together in a way that justifies the time it has taken. Javier Baez is batting .189 and striking out 43 percent of the time, but he's 21 years old with just under 100 plate appearances to his credit. He's shown why it's worth waiting for him to come around, too, as he's already blasted seven homers in 23 games: if he can even figure out how to identify a breaking ball, he's going to be a special bat in one corner or another. Arismendy Alcantara is a second baseman and center fielder who is also struggling a bit, but he's 22, is a former shortstop and projects to be at least a major league regular. Jorge Soler, the most recent call-up of the three, also has elite power potential, and is in the majors sooner than expected after slugging .618 in 32 Triple-A games.

Add to this trio Kris Bryant, who is also 22 and is batting .300/.417/.643 in his 66 Triple-A games in 2014, and there's plenty of youth and reasons for optimism. There's also 25-year-old Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs' first baseman who is batting .278/.375/.514 for a 143 OPS+, and 24-year-old Starlin Castro, who hasn't developed into the star many hoped he would, but still owns a 109 OPS+ at shortstop in 2014. If you simply look at how he has hit compared to other shortstops, that OPS+ changes to 124.

The Cubs also have one of the game's other top prospects in 20-year-old Addison Russell, after trading Jeff Samardzija away to the Athletics earlier this summer. Russell could have an incredible career, but he's also something of a luxury for the Cubs: they already have Castro at short through 2019, and Baez or Alcantara could move back to that position in a pinch. Russell could also make any of those players superfluous, too. Castro is an established piece, and is heading into the third season of a seven-year, $60 million deal with a $16 million option for 2020. Almost every team in the league would call the Cubs should they announce Castro and his reasonable deal are on the market.

This is how the Cubs fix the pitching. They have plenty of money, too, and could sign one of James Shields or Jon Lester -- whom the front office is very familiar with given they developed him in Boston -- to lead their staff the next few years, but a trade almost seems inevitable given what they have in the majors and in their system. If the Cubs wanted Cole Hamels and his remaining four years and $100 million guaranteed from the Phillies, making Castro or Russell the centerpiece could get Ruben Amaro's attention in a way no other offer has. The Cubs have the money to sign one of the two aforementioned pitchersand trade for Hamels if they want, or to attempt to sign both Shields and Lester, or Max Scherzer and Shields, or whatever combination of two of those three pitchers can happen for Chicago. A staff with any two of those four, along with Jake Arrieta and whichever back-end starters the Cubs stick with, combined with the potential of all this youth in their lineup, would be bad news for the rest of the NL. And, for once, good news for the Cubs.

That's still dreaming big at this stage, of course. The Cubs aren't the only team with money, and all three of Shields, Scherzer and Lester might decide they'd rather be just another veteran on an already contending team rather than play mentor to a bunch of kids. The Phillies might deal Hamels elsewhere, or they might refuse to deal him at all. The prospects could tank, Arrieta could revert to his less pleasing form or Castro could find a new way to disappoint. A lot could go wrong, because it's baseball and because it's the Cubs, but the pieces are here for things to change. Now the Cubs just need to put them in the right place to complete the puzzle.

http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2014/8/29/6082177/cubs-prospects-javier-baez-jorge-soler-kris-bryant